We did a road trip from Henderson, NV to Santa Fe, NM and Canyon de Chelly was a must stop for us. The trip from Flagstaff to Canyon de Chelly took us on some scenic country across the Navajo reservation. Make sure you have plenty of gas if you go this way, as there are very few towns. We stopped in a very small place where there was a gas station and grocery store. Since there wasn’t a lot of traffic, it was a nice ride. The drawback was that there was nowhere to pull over to get any good pictures. We saw some wild mustangs a couple of times but couldn’t get pictures of them. This was the most direct route to the canyon and showed us some beautiful places. We arrive in Chinle, AZ and begin our day at Canyon de Chelly.

 Although this National Park sees many visitors every year, it’s not one that is mentioned as often as some of the others such as Chaco Canyon for historic ruins. If you have never been here, add it to your bucket list! A must do is the tour through the canyon with a tour guide. Getting close to the ancient ruins and petroglyphs is an amazing experience. If you like history be sure to stop at the Welcome Center before entering the park. I’ve visited here twice and always see something new and am always amazed at not only the beauty of the canyon, but the history.

Park Information

This park is owned and operated by the Navajo Nation and is the only National Park service unit that is operated in this manner. It is also one of the longest continuously inhabited by the Navajo. Right now, there are about 40 families living in the park. Canyon de Chelly covers 83,840 acres and includes 3 canyons: Monument, Canyon de Chelly and del Muerto canyon. There are two overlook drives, north and south, that can be done in about 6 hours depending on how long you stay at each of the 10 scenic overlook spots. On the North rim there is Massacre Cave, Mummy Cave and Antelope House Overlook. On the South Rim there is Spider Rock, Face Rock Sliding House, White House, Junction, Tunnel, and Tsegi overlooks. Plan on 3 hours minimum per rim depending on how long you stay at each overlook. I suggest spending at least one night here. Plan to do the guided tour when you arrive. There are a couple tours you can take but each is at least 4 hours. Then if there’s time, do either the south or north drive. The following day you can do the other scenic drive or both if you didn’t get to the day before. Spider Rock is such a unique rock formation it is definitely one of the things you shouldn’t miss if you’re short on time. Tunnel Overlook and Tsegi are very close to each and are where Canyon de Chelley and del Muerto canyon meet. You can see kivas and other ruins from these overlooks.

Touring the Park

 The only way that you can enter the park floor is with a ranger or Navajo guide. There are many tours available for this and can be done on horseback, hiking or 4-wheel drive. We chose to do a jeep tour that we arranged at our hotel. Although doing the rim of the canyon is breathtaking, doing the tour of the floor is the only way to go in my opinion. You get up close to the ruins that date back to the same time as Chaco canyon ruins. You get to see the homesteads that are still being used here, our guide took us to his family homestead where they graze their sheep and cattle! You might even get to do some shopping if the family has their store open when you are there. And you see all the splendor of the canyon walls and how water erosion has changed them. For more information on the park check out NPRD website. Canyon de Chelly National Monument (U.S. National Park Service) (nps.gov)

Stay a day or two?

There are many options to choose from if you want to spend a day or two here. The first is camping at Cottonwood Campground inside the park. If you prefer to stay in a hotel, The Thunderbird Lodge is inside the park and is owned by the Navajo Nation. You can also set up a tour of the canyon floor through them. The town of Chinle is just a few miles from the park and offers a Best Western, Holiday Inn, Quality Inn or Navajo Land Inn. There are a few restaurant options in town also.

Thunderbird Lodge

We chose to stay at The Thunderbird Lodge primarily for the convenience of scheduling a tour of the canyon with them. The lodge is older, but the rooms are clean and have everything you need for a night’s stay. The restaurant is in the original lodge that date back to 1896. This is cafeteria-style and offers both Navajo and non-Navajo food. Their Navajo tacos are fabulous and if you decide to order the blue corn pancakes, I suggest just getting one to start off. They are about 12″ in diameter, but oh so good. There is also a trading post/gift shop here with many traditional native offerings. If you’re looking for gifts or something for yourself, you should stop in. The lodge offers 3 tour packages, so be sure to check their website to see what fits best for you. We chose the 4-hour tour and our guide was so informative. We really enjoyed it.

Conclusion

For me Canyon de Chelly is a definite bucket list park to visit. Being able to go into the canyon with a guide who is so knowledgeable is something you can’t get in other parks. It helps to understand what ancient people went through and how it still is home to the Navajo. Even though it may seem a little off the beaten path, it still is a beautiful place in New Mexico, and you can get to other places on the Navajo Nation easily from here. We not only love to travel but hope to inspire others to find their adventure and enjoy all the great places our world has to offer. Even if you just take a quick road trip near your home there is always an adventure waiting for you. Please read more of our blogs if you are interested in other places we have visited to help find your adventure. To see our tour please click picture below for video of Canyon de Chelly:  

By Greg and Peggy

We are two people who love to travel, thrift and play slot machines. We love going to new places, especially if there is a casino! We just want to share our adventures with people and hope to inspire them to explore and have fun!

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